I’ve been a writer my whole life, but for many reasons, I didn’t believe it until the end of 2018 when I found myself at a somewhat desperate crossroads:
I could either get tenure, or I could get writing.
Tenure seemed to me, at the time, like the obvious answer. That’s what I went to grad school to achieve, after all. I love history, I love teaching, and I love researching. But every time I went to put my job materials together, my arms would ache, my chest would clench, and I’d climb into bed fatigued and depressed, beaten down by a decade of toxic environments, lack of sleep, lack of compassion, dreading the prospect of diving back into that.
So maybe writing, then, I thought, giving my stack of novel drafts and edits the side-eye. But that seemed like a long-shot. Like a career for a mystical creature, or a dead white man with six-fingered cats, or generally someone who was not me. It seemed selfish to want work that was fun. It seemed too late, too much in the opposite direction of what I’d trained for, too wild and unpredictable.
But also I wanted it. I wanted to write. And I had never up to that point in my life just told myself, “Yes. Do it. Do the thing you want to do just because you want to fucking do it. Do it even if doesn’t feel immediately useful or purposeful or serious. See what you’re made of stripped bare of guilt and self-censorship.”
So, I did. I told myself, “Yes, do it, be a writer,” and started the excruciating, terrifying process of stripping away all the years of “No, don’t.”
I gave up alcohol, I created a cooking schedule to make sure I was eating enough when the panic kicked in, I started morning pages and worked through creative recovery books, I wrote a short story that bared my teeth and my soul, I joined a writer’s group, I re-applied to Clarion West after two years of chiding myself for ever trying, and I was accepted to the Class of 2019.
It changed my life.
But I changed my life first, so it could.
So, I guess the thing I want to say here is not just, “Hey, I talk about fiction writing on this website,” but also, “If you’re thinking about writing fiction, write it. Do it. Let out whatever it is that’s inside of you. Be terrified and be whole. Give yourself that gift. You deserve it.”